How can the Society of Behavioral Medicine members keep public health issues on policymakers agendas at a time when the current administration may be less inclined to spend money on health care and scientific research? The Civic and Public Engagement Committee invited Dr. Binta Beard, a managing partner and health policy strategist at Equinox Strategies in Washington, DC, to share her expertise during our monthly conference call.
Position SBM members as resources: Engagement strategies, such as writing and strategically disseminating policy briefs and op-eds, allow us to forge personal connections with congressional members and position ourselves as thought leaders on an issue. One way to highlight yourself as an expert in the policy arena is by inviting state and local representatives to a ground breaking for a new research facility or to receive an award as a champion of a public health issue. These site visits help to garner investment in research and introduce a personal connection that can help to grow mutually beneficial partnerships between the scientific community and local policymakers.
Underline the economic contribution of research: One of the best ways to make research relevant to congressional members is to highlight how scientific work bolsters the state economy. Meeting with members of the House and Senate to let them know how much funding your lab receives from the NIH and how many people are supported by your grant ties your work directly to the economy, which can motivate representatives from your state to preserve scientific funding. In essence, build a case around the negative economic impacts that could occur at the state level if research budgets are cut.
Collaborate on issues that are already a priority: If a congressional member, for example, is working on introducing a state soda tax, educate her staff about your work on sugar sweetened beverages, or send your policy brief on opioid alternatives to pain management to a congressional member who has given public attention to the crisis. This is a great way to align priorities and show them that you are already working as an expert in their priority area. Even a short email exchange is an easy way to start building a relationship with your congressional member. SBM encourages members to reach out legislators directly and provides an online toolkit to help members craft talking points: https://www.sbm.org/advocacy/tools-for-contacting-your-legislators
Make it easy to align with your issue: Op-eds are a great way to get scientific content to congressional members because they read these more than scientific papers. Op-eds are also easier to read than policy briefs. Also, use social media to disseminate your writing. When writing op-eds or policy briefs, have a lay person read them to make sure that takeaways are clear and include your key points on the first page. As social scientists, we tend to rely on academic language that can be inaccessible to those outside of the field and may make congressional members stop reading your work. Here are some resources for getting starting with public-facing writing:
As social scientists, our expertise and the economic impact of our work can be a great resource for liberal and conservative policymakers alike. As an organization, SBM has the opportunity to leverage the contributions of our members on a larger scale and make an impact at the state and federal levels.